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Four years ago, council enacted strict regulations that have kept cannabusiness out of Tualatin

COURTESY CITY OF TUALATIN - The Tualatin City Council plans to revisit its zoning and buffer regulations sometime in the future, the council determined last week.Although there are currently no marijuana dispensaries in Tualatin, the City Council has agreed to revisit its marijuana facility policy sometime in the future, specifically looking at where those businesses are allowed to locate and the buffers required between them and other structures.

Currently, about 472 acres of property in the city have been earmarked for such businesses on land located in the industrial area of the city.

During an Oct. 28 council meeting, council members discussed whether it needs to revisit zoning and buffer issues, since it's been five years since recreational marijuana use and sales became were approved by Oregon voters.

"We want to get everyone up to speed about what the ordinances are in Tualatin," Mayor Frank Bubenik said, adding that for the time being, it was "just a discussion."

In 2015, Tualatin adopted its own marijuana regulations, with city voters later approving a 3% tax on retail sales of marijuana for any dispensaries that might locate in the city in the future.

Among the issues discussed at the Oct. 28 meeting was a state law that requires at least a 1,000 foot buffer or so-called "bubble" between marijuana facilities. Before the state created that law, Tualatin had previously passed a requirement of a 2,000-foot buffer between facilities.

Noting the discrepancy regarding the 1,000-foot state buffer vs. the 2,000-foot city buffer, City Attorney Sean Brady said any local law that's in direct conflict with state law can't be enforced.

"So there's an argument to be made that that 2,000-foot buffer does not exist," Brady said.

Still, Brady said there's nothing that prevents the city law prohibiting marijuana dispensaries within 3,000 feet of residential areas, parks, schools and libraries from being enforced.

Several people spoke during public comments, including Gwyn Ashcom, a tobacco-prevention coordinator with Washington County Public Health.

Ashcom said it's well known there's a youth vaping epidemic and that data shows that one in four Oregon 11th-graders have reported having vaped a nicotine product. She said many young people have switched to vaping instead of smoking.

Ashcom also pointed out there are 664 cannabis retailers in the state, with 33 located in Washington County.

Deena Ryerson, who said she was speaking as a Tualatin resident and not in her official capacity — she's a senior assistant attorney general at the Oregon Department of Justice — said marijuana products haven't proved safe due to lack of inspection. She reminded the council that there are places already set aside where marijuana retail shops can open.

Ryerson said this isn't a time to add retail shops where her children and everyone else's will see them.

However, Sheri Ralston of Western Oregon Dispensary, who runs three dispensaries, said the alternative to not having dispensaries is creation of a black market to obtain the products.

"We do know statistically when cities regulate marijuana in their city, it does slow down (the) black market, which is what feeds underage people marijuana products," she said. "We know that black market is unsafe."

In addition, Ralston said the potential tax revenue Tualatin is losing with no marijuana business in town is significant, noting that in Newberg, where she runs a dispensary, $400,000 in tax revenue is turned over to the city annually.

Councilor Robert Kellogg, who was not on the council when the initial regulations went into effect, said he would like to see the same maps the council was working with when they approved both the zoning and buffers several years ago.

Kellogg pointed out that when the city's recreational marijuana regulations were put into place, recreational marijuana was an "unproven concept, and it was the Wild, Wild West, and nobody knew what to expect." However, now that four years have passed, a track record has been established, he said, noting that there are plenty of people with opinions about the issue and that the city needs to host a big community forum to get public input on the issue.

The only two members still on the City Council from the time the marijuana regulations were enacted are now-Mayor Frank Bubenik and Councilor Nancy Grimes.

Grimes said there were more comments and feedback from the public regarding marijuana regulations then there has been for discussions on whether to ban food carts in the downtown area or to allow residents to have chickens.

"I guess my observation at this point, are we listening to what our community is telling us — the families who came in and the kids who shared their input?" she asked.

However, Bubenik said his recollection of how the regulations were passed in 2015 was different.

"This was something that was forced by the majority down the minority's throat in City Council," said Bubenik. "There was a movement who wanted these regulations who knew exactly what they wanted and where they wanted (dispensaries) to be … and the minority, we were voted down. I voted against this because it's not right."

He said he just wants to look again at the zoning and buffer issue and is not necessarily advocating for a change.

No date has been set to revisit the marijuana facilities regulation issue.


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